If you could ask us any question, what would it be? While our “Support Bullpen” kept busy throughout the user conference tackling software questions, Fred (CEO/chairman) and Mike Ode (president) fielded questions about the business end of Foundation. Thursday’s roundtable sessions gave attendees an open forum to ask about the company — from present operations to its future. See if your question was asked!
Where Do You See Yourself Going?
The company’s future was on the mind of several participants. One client asked where we see the industry going and where we see ourselves. Addressing the state of the industry, Fred responded with an analogy: the gradual consolidation of countless auto manufacturers over time into the Big Three. Likewise, he explained, construction accounting software is now a mature industry. “In the mid-90s,” Fred continued, “we had about eight to 10 competitors.” That’s narrowed to just a few today. “Over time, a lot of companies like us sold out. As a result, you’ve seen a lot of packages disappearing from the market. Having said that, we’ve seized opportunities in front of us and remained committed. Today, I’d say we’re #1 in our market.”
Fred transitioned to talk about Foundation’s road ahead: “As it stands now, we’re absolutely committed that this company will evolve and flourish.” He summarized our organic growth since the end of 2010, from 65 employees to over 230 employees and around 20% growth year over year. “That said, we’re never satisfied with our success. We’re going to keep hiring A-players and make sure that next year we’re even better than this year. We’re determined to find new entry points into the market.”
“We’re not an accounting software company,” he explained, “We help contractors run the business side of their business. There’s an enormous market for services to contractors that we can provide, and right now we only have a very small slice of that. So we’re going to aggressively enhance our current offerings.” Fred named several possible examples, from matching contractors with a CPA to hosting educational conferences for the industry.
Mike added, “We’ve never looked at ourselves as a 90s software company. We think of ourselves as a service company. We need to continue to provide more offerings so that we can be the #1 provider of construction business services. If we do it properly, it’s all connected.”
Another client urged us not to sell to one of the larger software companies. Fred assured the room, “I get calls and emails every day from someone who wants to invest money or buy Foundation, and we’re just not interested. You don’t have to worry.”
Are You Going to Add Offices in Other Locations?
Some clients asked if we had plans to expand our offices outside of Cleveland. According to Fred, “Right now, no,” but he allows for the possibility further in the future with growth into new markets. In the meantime, “We’re a people company. I like the idea of all of our employees being in the same location.”
As an illustration, Mike shared how we’ve outgrown our current campus after just four years and purchased additional buildings less than a mile away. “We struggled for months to figure out who we could move over there without disrupting the chemistry and the bonds we formed. We went back and forth several times.” he said. “It’s so important in our company that our departments interact with one another. Each of them have a different point of view — that’s critical. If we did have a regional office one day, we might have a bit of every department over there.”
What About My Change Request?
The change request process came up several times too. Mike summarized the role of our senior software analyst in working through each change request submitted, receiving about 1,200 each month. While that kind of volume doesn’t let us respond to each with status updates, he continued, what we’d like to move toward is giving clients the ability to look up and track their own change request status.
Another client wanted to know how we choose our priorities for R&D. “For change requests, we look for commonality,” Mike answered. “From a feature and functionality standpoint, we have Client Services, Tech, Training, Payroll4Construction.com and Sales each give their list of top three priorities for each build.” We complete around three software “builds” per year.
What’s Your Training Process for Your Employees?
A major theme in both roundtables revolved around our employees. One client was curious about the training process for our phone support and whether we’ve considered a tiered structure for call escalation.
Mike explained how our onboarding system has evolved to date. Today, new support team members spend their first three weeks learning the software in a classroom environment. Next, they shadow an experienced rep for five to 15 days and then start to take their first calls while a veteran listens in for backup. “It’s one of the growing pains you experience in a growing company,” Mike admitted. “What we’re trying to do is stay ahead of the curve and over-hire. We’re always looking to hire brilliant people, and it’s a posting we have up year-round.”
Continuing, Mike replied, “We talked about the tiers. We’re implementing some of that now, mostly internally with team leads, and we do escalate calls.” But he added, “If you ever feel that your call isn’t being escalated properly, please let us know. If you have a problem, we’re going to trip over ourselves to try to solve it. Please feel comfortable to reach out to us.”
Another question addressed how we can get the requisite combination of accounting, software and construction knowledge into our programmers. Fred insisted it comes down to the aptitude, attitude and “raw intelligence” of the people we hire. “They learn how to develop, but they also know how to listen and what questions to ask.” Mike added the importance of trade shows and conferences to get more exposure to the industry and our clients. “It’s like I said at our welcome event yesterday. Our people get so much out of these conferences. They get the opportunity to meet you and hear what you do, what your needs are and how we can help.”
Any Other Questions?
See Fred and Mike around at our user conference this October. Make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to join in the discussion!